Officiating sports at the youth or high school levels provides a terrific outlet for those who care about scholastic sports but may not have the time to devote to a full-time coaching position. While the job can be rewarding and even provide extra income, it takes a special person to excel in these positions. Officials must make quick decisions, resolve conflicts, and handle pressure.
As more scholastic sports are offered and more players participate, there will continue to be a need for officials. It is estimated that 300,000 people officiate in the United States. Officiating can also become a career if you succeed at the youth level and graduate to calling collegiate and professional games, or it can be a great side hustle that keeps you connected with sports until you are ready to pursue a career elsewhere in the industry.
Youth Sports Official/Umpire Duties & Responsibilities
As part of their day's regular duties and tasks, a youth sports official/umpire may perform some or all of the following:
- Officiate and control games, events, and competitions in a confident, appropriate manner.
- Ensure all participants understand and comply with game rules and assess penalties when needed.
- Make game calls with confidence and knowledge of league rules.
- Keep track of event start times, and start or stop play as necessary.
- Make sure the teams have the appropriate equipment and inspect both players and equipment for any issues.
A sports official acts as a mediator of sorts between players during disagreements, and their knowledge and fair application of the game rules keeps gameplay running smooth. The game official acts as the unbiased third-party to settle any claims or disagreements about infractions.
Officials also keep and update game records including, but not limited to, incident and accident reports, time cards, and any communications made with the Recreation Coordinator.
Youth Sports Official/Umpire Salary
Officials typically work as independent contractors. Pay varies based on the sport and the level but is often given on a per-game basis in the range of $40 to $150 a game. Pay also can go up for postseason games, opportunities that typically get awarded to top officials.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics provides salary estimates for umpires, referees, and other sports officials, as follows:
- Median Annual Salary: $27,020 ($12.99 /hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $59,240 ($28.48/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $18,220 ($8.76/hour)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Working as an umpire on a contract basis often means that you'll need to cover travel expenses to and from games, equipment costs, any association dues, and other job-related expenses. Speak to a tax professional about whether you can deduct these costs on your income tax return.
Education, Training & Certification
The youth sports official/umpire position involves fulfilling education and training requirements as follows:
- Education: Typically applicants attend classes offered by the high school association or an officials association to get started with training. New officials usually work lower-level games, perhaps middle school or freshman games as opposed to varsity, as they work their way up and gain experience. Some high school officials eventually begin working college games.
- Experience: Not every official has played the sport they work, but they do put in the effort to understand the rules and how to apply them within the flow of the game. Umpires and other officials must have extensive knowledge of the sport and the rules of the game to perform their job successfully.
- Registration: Umpires must usually register with the state or local agency that oversees the athletic program.
Youth Sports Official/Umpire Skills & Competencies
In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:
- Good vision: Umpires and other officials must be able to view violations and infractions accurately during gameplay.
- Interpersonal and communication skills: Umpires and other officials must communicate the rules clearly in a non-confrontational manner, and settle disputes among players.
- Decision-making ability: Officials must often make quick decisions on infractions and other calls.
- Solid character: Maintain strong character and unquestionable integrity.
- Teamwork: Officials work with others to come to a mutual decision on rulings, and contribute to the development and educational experience of the team members.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth outlook for umpires, referees, and other sports officials from 2016 to 2026 is average, driven by increased sports enrollment, but offset by decreased funding for sports programs.
Employment is expected to grow by about 8%, which is slightly higher growth than the average of 7% for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.
Umpires and other officials may spend some time in an office environment, but spend the majority of their time on the game field with the players. In some cases, they may need to sprint, stand, or jog for extended periods during gameplay.
Due to infraction rulings, the job may involve stressful interactions between the official and players, coaches, or parents.
Many umpires and other officials work irregular, often part-time hours. They may need to work nights, weekends, and in some cases, holidays.
How to Get the Job
EVALUATE THE JOB
The National Association of Sports Officials suggests considering these factors before becoming an official:
- Sports officials are placed in highly charged situations. They need to keep their cool, even if others around them lose perspective and control.
- It takes a time commitment to become a top official. There is more involved than reading a rule book. Top officials attend meetings, stay updated on changes in the sport, and attend clinics to improve.
- Through it all, officials are able to have fun doing their job, confident that they have put in the time to give their best effort.
Look at job search resources such as Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available youth official positions. Visit the websites of schools, parks, and other organizations to apply to open job positions. Play up any useful experience that sets you apart, such as other experiences working with youth or fluency in additional languages. Check the National Association of Sports Officials for additional job postings.
TARGET ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
If you start as a youth official and love the role, your goal may become to rise through the various levels until you reach the professional level. Salaries at this level are lucrative. For example, Major League Baseball umpires work in a unionized environment with salaries starting at $120,000 per year and topping out at $350,000 per year. NBA officials' salaries reportedly range from $200,00 to $500,000 per year.
There are few of these positions available each year. While the job is glamorous and high profile, the travel demands and long hours represent a different lifestyle than officiating in a localized area.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in a youth sports official/umpire career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018